Despite the mixed feelings from fans, the Edmonton Oilers have endured a more successful season than anyone could have ever expected. The Oilers made their first post-season since the 2015-16 season, advancing to the second round of the NHL playoffs and even dispatching the eventual Stanley Cup finalist Vegas Golden Knights. Once considered a dumpster fire for the franchise, the Oilers have turned it around faster than anyone could have expected. (The team also has a new owner, former head coach, and general manager.)
The hockey season is coming to an end, and all of the teams in the league have their respective award winners and top point getters. However, there are certain players who may not win any awards but may have an impact on the league next year, and these ten players are the ones to watch.
Ever since Sidney Crosby became the youngest Art Ross winner in NHL history, the Pittsburgh Penguins have dominated the league. While this particular dynasty is likely to fade in the coming years, the Penguins are still a top contender to win the Stanley Cup in the next few years. So, what should bet you can expect from the team?
Nikolaj Ehlers is an excellent illustration of the NHL’s “breakout player” life cycle.
As the ninth overall selection in 2014, the Winnipeg Jets forward was seen as a promising prospect. From his rookie season in 2015-16 to his second season in 2016-17, he improved dramatically in quality and then remained at that level for the following several seasons. The analytics community lauded his performance, putting Ehlers in the running for “most underappreciated player.”
The breakthrough came in 2020-21, when the output finally caught up to the potential: 46 points in 47 games, a fantastic 3.5 points per 60 minutes. His absence from the lineup due to injury only served to emphasize his significance to the Jets.
Nik Ehlers was on his way.
Every season, whether it’s a guy who was previously overlooked receiving his due, or a player who discovers his game just as he discovers the perfect environment to improve it — such as more ice time or better linemates — it occurs.
In 2021-22, here are ten players that are expected to have breakthrough seasons. Some of the names are familiar to you. All of them have a potential to become household names in the near future.
In the Seth Jones deal, Boqvist, 21, was the only active NHL player transferred to the Blue Jackets. Jones’ former position on the roster, on the right side of Zach Werenski, may be filled by him.
With 19 points in 76 games in his first two NHL seasons, Boqvist hasn’t even come close to realizing his scoring potential. He did saw an increase in his power-play production, which was to be anticipated given that he spent 1 minute and 13 seconds longer on the man advantage than he did as a rookie. Last season, his 3:23 per game ranked 15th in the NHL. With Columbus, he may not receive that, but he will get his opportunity to play quarterback.
We’re enthusiastic about Boqvist this season for two reasons. The Blue Jackets’ 5-on-5 play might theoretically mask some of his defensive flaws. Playing alongside Werenski would be exciting as well, as he is a determined defender who is eager to take the limelight now that he has emerged out of Jones’ shadow.
Werenski recently said, “I’m eager to be a real No. 1 and show everyone I can do it without him.” Raising Boqvist to a career year would be beneficial to his résumé.
Buchnevich was added to the Blues’ roster thanks to a number of fortunate events.
The first is the NHL’s crippling financial situation. The Rangers didn’t want to pay him what arbitration would have awarded him since that award would have been based on pre-pandemic player comparisons, and the flat cap prevented them from doing so. So they sent Buchnevich, a player whose abilities they had always underestimated, to the Blues, who were dealing with an unusual situation: star winger Vladimir Tarasenko had asked for a move. Buchnevich’s $5.8 million AAV over a new four-year contract would fit perfectly in, and he would depart with upwards of $7.5 million against the cap each season.
That’s how the Blues wound up with a top-line winger who creates offense, has gradually improved his 5-on-5 scoring, and can play the kind of defense that St. Louis values in its best players. Depending on whatever line he connects with in St. Louis, his 2.8 points per 60 minutes from last season may be a sign of things to come for the talented 26-year-old. It’s an unusual flex for a player to acquire greater fame after leaving New York City, yet here we are.
The Sabres’ depth chart will be readjusted at the center position as they enter the P.E. (Post-Eichel) era. Depending on who returns the opposite way for Eichel, Casey Mittelstadt or Cozens may be promoted to the top-line. After a mediocre debut season, Cozens, 20, has played in 41 games (13 points in 41 games). The bulk of his growing pains came on defense (2.67 projected goals against per 60 minutes), as one would anticipate from an NHL rookie.
With increased ice time and a larger role on a rebuilding club, he’ll improve in Year 2. Does it imply top-line minutes for Victor Olofsson, one of the team’s few proven offensive playmakers? We believe he will earn the opportunity this season.
It’s now or never for Vince Dunn to break through. Dunn, 24, was selected in the expansion draft by the Kraken from the St. Louis Blues. It wasn’t surprising: despite a down year in 2020-21, Dunn had been the kind of analytics darling that the Kraken’s front staff seemed to lust for. His background is as a puck-moving defender, but his defense of scoring chances on the Blues’ blue line was outstanding.
Opposing supporters had hoped for years that their club could save Dunn from the Blues’ depth list. He gets his chance to shine for the Kraken, as a second-pairing defender behind Mark Giordano and Adam Larsson on the top line. That might mean forming a combination with Jamie Oleksiak, giving Dunn a chance to flourish offensively and exceed his 35-point career high from last season.
Last season, Farabee, 21, was one of the few young players who improved rather than regressed. He jumped from 21 points in 52 games as a rookie to 38 points in 55 games last season, an almost two-minute increase in average ice time (16:01). His greatest improvement was in goal scoring, as he scored 20 last season. That was the best among the Flyers’ forwards and tied for 15th in the NHL.
He skated alongside James van Riemsdyk and Sean Couturier last season. After acquiring Cam Atkinson in the summer, Alain Vigneault’s forward configuration will most likely determine if he can make another jump. For what it’s worth, Farabee can play either wing.
Isn’t it nice to talk about a Sharks defender under the age of 27 who isn’t contracted till the end of time and has trade protection?
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Ferraro, who will be 23 in September, was selected in the second round (49th overall) in the 2017 draft. Over his first two NHL seasons, he appeared in 117 games and scored 28 points. In his second season, his game improved dramatically on both ends of the ice, but particularly on defense, where he was just below replacement level as a rookie.
Ferraro and Brent Burns developed a rapport that resulted in a good expected goals percentage. Ferraro has a big season ahead of him, with restricted free agency coming next summer. He may lack the flash of some of the other guys in his age group here — or among NHL defenders — but he’s on the right road.
The Canucks acquired J.T. Miller from the Lightning in 2019. Miller’s north/south skating, forechecking, and finishing ability would fit well in Vancouver’s top six, but the price was high — a conditional first-round pick went the other way in a cap casualty deal for Tampa Bay — but the intent was clear: GM Jim Benning believed Miller’s north/south skating, forechecking, and finishing ability would fit well in Vancouver’s top six. As a consequence, he enjoyed a 27-goal season with 72 points in 69 games.
Garland, 25, has an opportunity to enjoy the same statistical bump after joining the Canucks in the Oliver Ekman-Larsson deal — and considering that the Canucks took on the latter’s financial burden, that should tell you how high they think Garland is. In 2019-20, he had his greatest offensive season, scoring 22 goals in 68 games. In each of the previous two seasons, he has scored 39 points. No disrespect to Nick Schmaltz, but he’ll now be set up at 5-on-5 by either Elias Pettersson or Bo Horvat, and will join a power play that was fourth in the league just a year ago (24.2 percent ). It’s unlikely that Benning will suffer long-term consequences as a result of this move since Garland failed to live up to his new five-year, $24.75 million contract.
Breakout players may have a delayed response. In 2020-21, Necas had a fantastic season with Carolina, scoring 41 points in 53 games, including a four-point performance against the Stanley Cup champions from Tampa Bay in March. Because his ascension was not generally acknowledged, it’s possible that the divisional restructuring isolated him from the rest of the hockey world.
This season, though, things are different. The 22-year-old forward has established himself as one of the best in the NHL at entering the zone cleanly and then generating offense off that rush. Defensively, he’s also improved. He matched up effectively with Nino Niederreiter, as well as Vincent Trocheck and Sebastian Aho, in a way that he didn’t have in his debut season in 2019-20. His third season, which comes before a new deal, has the potential to make him a star.
Many people missed the Bruins handing the baton to Ullmark, who signed a four-year contract with trade protection, over the summer. While Tuukka Rask’s return in some form following hip surgery isn’t ruled out, this sort of commitment shows they think the 28-year-old can fill the crease.
There is evidence to support this. Ullmark has had two consecutive good seasons on bad Sabres teams, including a 9-6-3 record and a.917 save percentage last season for a club that finished with a.330 points percentage. For the NHL’s second-worst defensive squad, he saved almost 10 goals over average (3.50 GAA). After seeing Buffalo’s 26th-ranked penalty kill pull down his numbers, Ullmark is now playing for a club that was fourth in GAA (2.39) and, more significantly, second on the penalty kill (86.0 percent).
It’s like if an NFL club took a good quarterback from a bad squad, put him in a tried-and-true system, and saw him develop into an All-Pro.
Vrana, 25, has scored over 20 goals twice and had 19 in 50 games with the Washington Capitals and Red Wings last season. After being dealt to Detroit in a transaction that saw Anthony Mantha moved to Washington, he scored 11 points in 11 games. As a restricted free agent, it was enough of an audition to win him a three-year, $15.75 million contract.
Vrana will be given free reign by the Red Wings. When he arrived in Detroit, his time on the ice had increased by almost three minutes (17:16). Best of all, in that little sample, he averaged 10 shots per game at 5-on-5, which is hopefully a sign of things to come: In Washington, Vrana was at his best offensively when he was spraying shots on goal at even strength like a garden fountain.
Vrana will have an opportunity to shine on a rebuilding club in urgent need of a goal-scoring boost (Detroit’s 2.23 goals per game were the second fewest in the NHL last season). “My role has shifted somewhat. I’m excited to demonstrate what I’m capable of and what my potential is “He recently told reporters.
As are all ten of these players.
The NHL regular season is over. That means now is the time to focus on the NHL’s post-season, the Stanley Cup playoffs. Every team has their own story and there are teams that look like the least likely to make the playoffs…until you start paying attention. This list takes a look at the top 10 under-the-radar teams for the 2021-22 NHL season, based on factors like depth, standout players, and hopes.. Read more about nhl fantasy breakout players 2021 and let us know what you think.
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